How to practise in Belgium after the Brexit transition period

This information assumes that after the end of the Brexit transition period, the EU Lawyers Directives will no longer apply to UK solicitors or law firms, and that they’ll be treated as third country lawyers and law firms.

The position may change depending on the outcome of the ongoing UK-EU negotiations.

Conditions for UK solicitors to practise under home title after the end of the transition period: List B

There will be no nationality, reciprocity or examination requirements for solicitors to establish to practise in Belgium under their home title after the end of the Brexit transition period.

Third-country lawyers can permanently establish in Belgium. They can register with one of the local bars where they practise.

Registration with a local bar is optional, unless a third-country lawyer either:

  • wants to undertake joint practice with Belgian or other EU/EFTA lawyers or a collaboration contract with lawyers registered at the Brussels Bar (A and E lists), or
  • intends to practise some aspects of Belgian law

There are two bar associations in Brussels:

  • the Dutch-speaking Brussels Bar
  • the French-speaking Brussels Bar

Third-country lawyers can join ‘List B’ and become associated members of one of the Brussels Bars.

Requirements to access List B

Applicants must:

  • apply for a professional card (equivalent to a work permit for entrepreneurs/employees)
  • apply for a visa
  • have a local address in Belgium
  • obtain the status of an independent or one-person company

In order to practise as a member of List B, third-country lawyers must have a local address in Belgium.

Like Belgian lawyers, third-country lawyers wishing to establish in Belgium must:

  • obtain the status of an independent or a one-person company
  • first apply for a professional card (if an entrepreneur) or a work permit (if an employee)

The application process usually lasts around three months. Importantly, obtaining a professional card is a pre-condition for having the visa approved.

Before travelling to Belgium, third-country lawyers will need to apply for a visa.

The application process for a visa may be started almost in parallel with the application for a professional card. However, a visa application can only be processed after the lawyer has obtained a professional card.

During the visa procedure, the Belgian authorities may withhold the applicant’s passport for a long period of time which makes it difficult to travel.

Third-country lawyers’ practising rights

Associated members of the Dutch-speaking Brussels Bar can practise local, EU and foreign law.

Associated members of the French-speaking Brussels Bar can practise EU law and foreign law. They cannot give advice on Belgian law, except in files involving ancillary matters of Belgian law and if the advice is given in consultation with a Belgian qualified lawyer.

List B lawyers cannot:

  • plead before the Belgian courts
  • plead before the Council of State (Raad van State/Conseil d’Etat)
  • represent clients before the Council of disputes of foreigners (Conseil du contentieux des étrangers/Raad voor vreemdelingenbetwistingen)

Third-country lawyers may:

  • represent clients in arbitration, conciliation or mediation
  • appear with their clients before administrative bodies
  • attend the relevant courts on their clients matters but they must be accompanied by a registered, qualified and practising Belgian/ EEA lawyer

Third-country lawyers cannot represent their clients in Belgian courts.

Requalifying as a Belgian lawyer after the end of the transition period

A lawyer must have EU/EEA nationality to requalify as a Belgian lawyer. Derogations from the nationality requirement are possible, but onerous.

Derogations from the nationality requirement, set out in Article 428 of the Judicial Code, stipulate that to benefit from the waiver, a foreign lawyer:

  • must be domiciled in Belgium for at least six years before the request for requalification
  • if they have been a registered with a foreign bar they must prove they have not been excluded from the bar for personal or professional misconduct
  • must present a certificate granted by the Belgian Ministry for Foreign Affairs to prove that national law or an international convention provides for reciprocity
  • is not domiciled and does not have residency abroad and is not a member of a foreign or host bar, and undertakes not to seek to obtain such membership

The condition of being domiciled in Belgium can be reduced to three years for those foreign lawyers who:

  • are married to a Belgian national by birth
  • have one or more ancestors or descendants living in Belgium for at least three years
  • are an EEA national
  • are recognised as a refugee according to the Geneva Convention 1951

A foreign lawyer must register a physical presence Belgium in order to practise law.

There are examination requirements. Requalification is dealt with on a case-by-case basis and reciprocity is applied. In practice, it involves recognition of academic diplomas and is likely to result in having to sit parts of a Belgian law degree.

Resources

Vademecum for European and non-European lawyers on the establishment in Belgium, Dutch-speaking order of the Brussels Bar (Nederlandse Orde van Advocaten bij de Balie te Brussel) (May 2016)

Vademecum de l’établissement en Belgique pour les avocats communautaires et non communautaires (November 2017)

IBA Global Regulation and Trade in Legal Services Report 2014

If you have any questions, email our international team at international@lawsociety.org.uk.

The information above does not constitute legal advice. It was drafted by the Law Society of England and Wales on the basis of desk research, bilateral relations with European Bars and engagement with members.

The Law Society cannot be held liable for actions taken on the basis of this note or lack thereof. In case of specific queries, we strongly advise to consider instructing external counsel to obtain advice specific to your business objectives.